Dwight Ball returns to N.L., plans to meet with Indigenous groups
Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor says Labrador towns must be included in discussions
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball returned to the province Sunday after a few days away, and has plans to meet with groups involved with the protest at the Muskrat Falls site.
The premier said he was attending to personal matters outside the province, but remained in "constant contact" with ministers and MHAs.
Ball said he has also been dealing with Indigenous leaders in hopes of working with their groups and reducing the environmental impacts to the area.
"My priority is the safe and peaceful resolution of the events that are occurring onsite at Muskrat Falls," he said in a statement released late Sunday,.
"On Tuesday, I will be meeting with representatives of the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the NunatuKavut Community Council at a meeting that was arranged to accommodate the schedules of all parties involved."
The premier said he looks forward to the meeting and hopes to "move forward with a collaborative approach to this issue."
Over the weekend, protests at the hydroelectric dam project in Labrador continued. A group of protesters on hunger strike also visited Ottawa, voicing their concerns that the project will contaminate water and food sources with methylmercury.
Municipalities want to be included
Representatives from Labrador communities Happy Valley-Goose Bay, North West River, Cartwright and Rigolet held an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss common concerns over Muskrat Falls.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook said it's critical the towns most affected by methylmercury contamination be a part of meetings between government, Crown corporation Nalcor, and protesters.
If we're not included, we'll all simply be witnesses to another injustice.- Jamie Snook
"Between all of us, we've seen our fair share of disputes and none of us had seen anything like this before. It is unprecedented," he told CBC's Labrador Morning.
"We felt it was imperative we have an emergency meeting, and we felt very strongly that municipal government needs to be included in these discussions."
Snook said certain concerns may not be considered if mayors are not at the table.
"If we're not included, we'll all simply be witnesses to another injustice."
Combined Councils express support
The executive of the Combined Councils of Labrador (CCL), which represents the region's municipalities, also expressed their support for the protesters.
The group said in a statement released Monday that concerns were known since the beginning of the project and that sufficient research was not conducted and residents in the area were not properly consulted.
The CCL said that as caribou herds decline, residents rely more on fish and seals from Lake Melville for food and should be able to eat traditionally without fearing methylmercury contamination.
"Labradorians are getting few benefits from the Muskrat Falls project, they should not be expected to pay the price with their food source just to have this project completed," the statement read.
The group called on Nalcor, the province, the premier and his ministers and representatives to find a way forward and hear the concerns of people in the Lake Melville area.
Should be in Labrador, not St. John's
Mayor Snook said he reached out to the premier and ministers but has not been invited to the meeting planned for Tuesday in St. John's.
He said the discussion should be held in Labrador where the protests are being held.
"The issue is happening right here on the ground and I don't see how you can get a grasp of what's happening unless the meeting does happen here," said Snook.
He said the Muskrat Falls project poses a threat to a culture and a way of life throughout Labrador, a threat that's been underestimated by Nalcor and the provincial government.
Innu Nation not in support of protest
Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee also understands the threat to culture, but doesn't believe protesting is the best way to move forward
"With all the talk about the methylmercury and impact on food security and we're just as concerned, [but the] Innu Nation is not in support of the protest that's happening today, or the last couple of days," she said.
Qupee said the Innu Nation has its own process in place for dealing with the concerns that have been raised about methylmercury contamination rather than demonstrating.
She said the Oct. 19 announcement that more vegetation would be cleared from the reservoir is positive, but the group is still looking for further solutions.
"We requested that flooding be postponed until more research is done," said Qupee.
She said she has also been bringing her concerns to the provincial government since June and wants to make sure no harm is brought to the food supply in the area.
With files from Labrador Morning